Deloitte/Management magazine Executive of the Year: Don Braid

Mainfreight group managing director Don Braid is back. He was the Deloitte/Management magazine Top 200 Executive of the Year in 2008. repeat performance doesn’t happen often. But then, executives of Braid’s calibre don’t surface all that often either.
Of all the Top 200 Executives of the Year, Braid is perhaps the most understated. But his accomplishments as the head of Mainfreight, this year’s Top 200 Company of the Year, cannot be.
When he featured on this page three years ago he was called perhaps the most “self-effacing” of the CEOs who have lifted the Top 200 mantle. He doesn’t need to be.
Braid is leader of proven and consummate organisational skill, vision, drive, humanity and humility – worthy disciple of the company’s wise founder and executive chairman, Bruce Plested, who once called his CEO “a very complete modern and old-fashioned leader wrapped up in one”.
Braid has been with the business since 1994 when Mainfreight purchased Daily Freightways. He had worked there for the previous 16 years. Little wonder Braid is now acknowledged for his depth of industry knowledge and understanding.
In his time at the Mainfreight helm, Braid has faithfully implemented the board’s long-range strategy to become the best in its business, in New Zealand and elsewhere in the world where it sets up office. He has helped take the company from Australasia to Asia, the United States and now Europe.
When Mainfreight purchased the Netherlands-based Wim Bosman Group earlier this year, Braid said he expected trade with Europe would surpass trade on both its Asia/USA/Asia and its Asia/Australia/New Zealand/Asia trade lanes.
He sees Mainfreight’s “100 year vision” as cornerstone for developing global growth and trust in his company. “In Asia they identify with [the 100 year] vision immediately,” he said earlier this year.
Braid exemplifies Mainfreight’s “egalitarian” but simultaneously performance-based values. Like most of the company’s owners and directors, he is proudly Kiwi. He wants to keep the company that way.
When Mainfreight’s “blokey-kind of board”, as one commentator has called it, announced the retirement of two of its directors recently, Braid credited much of the company’s success to the strength of its board. Shrugging off suggestions that some directors were too old and had been there too long he said simply; “their age and longevity” was crucial.
“Replacing these men from pool of retired businessmen and professional directors could significantly impact on your investment,” he told shareholders at the company’s AGM.
Braid believes in Mainfreight’s disciplines of promoting from within and using graduate recruitment programme as the first step towards staff moving from the floor to other roles in the business. There are no private offices at Mainfreight. “And no car park with my name on it,” he said in an interview earlier this year.
Mainfreight’s success, according to Braid, is built on the passion and dedication of the company’s people. The comments ring truer coming from Braid than from most other senior executives in the marketplace – probably because the company’s business model emphatically eschews financial and other position-based inequality.
Can you name any other company that publishes the names of every one of its 3242 “team members” in its annual report? It is an accomplishment of which Braid feels distinctly proud.
Braid is forthright, open, dedicated to Mainfreight and all its stakeholders – particularly its employees and customers. He does not suffer fools gladly, might be described as politically incorrect, but he is an honest leader who cares for his company, communities and the country.
It is hard to see Braid being handed knighthood as some of his equally high-achieving Deloitte/Management magazine Executives of the Year have been. It is difficult to imagine him minding too much. M


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Mainfreight’s Don Braid simply refuses to take his foot off the accelerator. He is an outstanding leader who understands his customers, his people and his business. He continues to deliver on the company’s ambitious global expansion plans. But while he grows the business, he remains true to his principles and Mainfreight’s belief in the importance of its employees and the environment in which we live. Braid is both an outstanding leader and highly competent business manager. He was the Deloitte/Management magazine Top 200 Executive of the Year in 2008. It takes very special leader to repeat that kind of performance – and this year he has.

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